Focus on Sustainability

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Arizona Focus on Sustainability
Original Airdate: 2012-09-20

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Coming up next on this special Arizona Horizon Focus on Sustainability, Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton talks about what he’s doing to make Phoenix a leader in sustainability. We’ll take a look at efforts to improve the bike-ability of Phoenix and other valley cities, and we’ll hear from leaders of a group that’s trying to create sustainable economies in northern Arizona. It’s all next on this special edition of Arizona Horizon.

TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to this special Arizona Horizon focus on sustainability. I’m Ted Simons. Since taking office in January, Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton has made sustainability one of his top priorities. He says he wants to transform Phoenix into the Silicon Valley of sustainability, and he appointed a team of experts to help him accomplish that goal. During a recent Arizona Horizon interview, guest host Steve Goldstein talked with the mayor about efforts to make Phoenix a model of sustainability.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Where does solar energy fit into your vision of sustainability for Phoenix?

GREG STANTON: Solar energy fits directly into my vision. First, we need to as a city show leadership. We need to put solar on as many city buildings as we can. We just put a large solar array on the car rental facility, one of the top five in the United States of America and we're getting started. We need to make sure that we increase solar on roof tops, and with the recently announced solar Phoenix 2 program, it's such a cutting-edge program, the largest public-private partnership of its kind for residential solar. It's been a huge success. $25 million of opportunity for investment in solar, $5 million been laid out there. It's good economic development, as well. This program has been hugely successful in terms of getting people interested in it and we've already moved forward with 200 homes having solar on their roofs. It's a public-private partnership, no government money. We're promoting it. We make sure they get the permits as quickly as possible. It's a partnership with APS and SRP. And I know it's going to be a big success. It will be the model of how to take solar to scale on residential but not only that. We just don't want to get the benefit of the sun. We want the business side of solar. You can build a strong economy. These are good-paying jobs and I want to brand this city as a city that loves sustainability and if you are a sustainability entrepreneur, not just in solar but any other area and you've got a business idea and you need a proof of concept, come to the city of Phoenix. We're going to be totally open minded to you using our city. If you've got an idea of how to save energy, let us test it out and we want -- when I say I want Phoenix to be the Silicon Valley for sustainability, we want the best minds here. This is an issue in its infancy and Phoenix has a chance to take competitive advantage if we get it right and we brand ourselves ready.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: It's incredibly ambitious. What's the term we can look for as far as how far we have to look. Is it 10 years? 20?

GREG STANTON: Yes, and yes. A commitment to sustainability is a short-term commitment to get programs going, and you're going to see my commitment with regards to light rail and use of empty lots, vacant lots, which have been a huge problem in our city, a very depressing problem in many ways and we're going to send a message that you can turn a negative into a positive. You've got to have a series of short-term programs, make the city more bikable, more walkable but it's also a long-term commitment. At the end of the day, we as a city to significantly increase our use of renewable energy, not only the city ourselves in terms of the 14,000 employees of the city of Phoenix, but the 1.4 million people of the city as a whole. It's good for jobs, it's good for reducing our dependence on foreign oil. So from a national security perspective, this is really important that we get this right and the action is really at the city level. I often get asked do you want Phoenix to be ranked number one in sustainability, number two in sustainability and my answer is I don't care. I want Phoenix to be the best we can do and oh, by the way, I want Los Angeles to do the best they can do and New York and Chicago and Denver and all the other cities of the United States of America. If we get it right, we can significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It's really good for business, really good for national security and good for the environment.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: How interconnected are light rail and sustainability?

GREG STANTON: They are one and the same. Number one, we need to increase bus service and light rail service and we just as a city council approved the northwest extension so the current light rail as you know it is going to be expanding very soon. On the east side, mesa is doing it, as well. We're going to pick up a lot of new customers and riders as a result of that. So to get people out of their cars and into other forms of transportation, not just light rail, buses, we want people to be able to bike to work. We want to make our city more walkable, which it traditionally hasn't been a walkable city. We need to retrofit it much better in that regard but not only in terms of reducing congestion and being able to spend more time with families, but there's a real reason why increased multimodal transportation is important but certainly from a sustainability and environmental perspective, getting that right in the short run and the long run is critically important.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Finally, when you talk about getting it right, is it easier or more difficult to get it right in a city the size of Phoenix with so much land mass?

GREG STANTON: That's a tough question to answer because I grew up in Phoenix, I'm the mayor of Phoenix, I didn't grow up in any other city, I only know Phoenix. And I love this city and I love the activists. I've learned so much from the people of this community. I'm going to tell you the dirty little secret of local politics. I have very few original ideas but I need to reach out and listen to the people of this city and I get my best ideas, politics is politically correct plagiarism. I steal ideas and I run with them and I've got some great ideas for this community on sustainability and you've got a mayor and a city staff that is open minded and we want to do better. We want to look in the mirror and always say how can we do better as a city and so yes, we're a big city, one of the largest cities in America. Does it make it easier or harder? I don't know. All I know is we've got to get it right.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Thanks so much.

GREG STANTON: Happy to be here.

TED SIMONS: Phoenix and other cities are trying to make it easier to get around the valley on a bicycle. In a moment, we’ll hear from transportation planners from three valley cities. But first, producer David Majure and photographer David Cano take us on a ride.

JOHN ROMERO: I can't remember a time in my life where I really never owned a bike.

DAVID MAJURE: John Romero calls himself a lifestyle cyclist. He rides to compete and he rides just for the fun of it.

JOHN ROMERO: The same reason people run, the same reason people hike, you know, it floods the brain and body with endorphins. It is the sheer enjoyment of being outdoors in the wind moving.

DAVID MAJURE: Romero also rides to work on a regular basis.

JOHN ROMERO: I start out near South Mountain, 20th street, South Mountain.

DAVID MAJURE: It’s a 12-mile trek to downtown Tempe. The trick to getting there safely is knowing the best way to go.

JOHN ROMERO: Exactly, Low-density traffic, two-lane roads as opposed to four-lane thoroughfares.

DAVID MAJURE: Romero cuts through neighborhoods and follows paths along canals as much as possible. When he is ready to cross over interstate 10, he rides in a Lane marked with sharrows.

JOHN ROMERO: They indicate that even though there is no bike lane here, you know, bikes are still coming through here and, you know. Yield to them. Allow them to use the lane. Signs posted that say that, show a picture of a bicycle, may use full lane.

DAVID MAJURE: Romero doesn't give valley drivers very high marks for knowing how to share the road with bikes.

JOHN ROMERO: I would say poor. It also depends on the area you are in. Tempe is a very bike-heavy community. People are far more aware, a lot more people here that bike. Like when I ride on the west side of I-17, not so good. You know, not such good bike infrastructure. There's A lot less awareness. I think Scottsdale, another great place to ride. A lot of impatient drivers there, too. Big vehicles, moving fast and sometimes they don't give you the right of way that you should get.

DAVID MAJURE: When Romero reaches his workplace in Downtown Tempe, he doesn't have to shift gears at all because his job is bicycle advocacy. He's cofounder of the bicycle cellar, a bike shop located on the first floor of the Tempe Transportation Center. It is a public/private partnership with the city that gives commuters a place to store their bikes and get cleaned up before they head into work.

JOHN ROMERO: You come here, you park your bike, it's safe. You get keycard access. Access the facility 20 hours a day, 365 days a year. There's one of the shower facilities --

CYCLIST #1: So I can change after my morning exercise, changing into clean clothes and head into work.

DAVID MAJURE: The cyclists we talked to said the valley is a pretty good place to ride, but there is plenty of room for improvements.

CYCLIST #2: There are some challenges. Intersections where there are not bike lanes, you have to be careful because motorists may not see you or may run into you or turn in front of you.

CYCLIST #1: My scariest moment is crossing major intersections where the bike lanes disappear and turn into turn lanes for cars.

JOHN ROMERO: A lot of cyclists say it is a great place to ride. The weather is so good. Heat aside, we have nine months of spring, increases the quality of living when a city can say, you know, we live in a bikable community, family friendly, bike friendly, you know, tourist friendly. Those sort of livability qualities for a city, they're invaluable.

TED SIMONS: Here now to talk about bicycling in the valley, Reed Kempton a transportation planner and chair of the bicycle and pedestrian committee for the Maricopa association of governments, Eric Iwersen, and the bicycle coordinator for the city of Phoenix and cofounder of the bicycle cellar. Good to have you here. We just saw a lot of folks look like they're getting the job done bicycling. How does the valley compare to other regions?

REED KEMPTON: We think we're really high. We have several cities in the valley that are rated by the league of American bicyclists as bicycle-friendly communities. And the improvements made in the past two decades are tremendous. We went from 400 something miles of bike facilities in 1992 to almost 3,000 today.

TED SIMONS: Very good. What can we do better? Where is the area for improvement?

ERIC IVERSON: I think there has been a tremendous effort in the last 15 years to have regional coordination, cities working together. There has been a big push by several cities and the region to fund these types of projects. And I think that to get better, we should continue that focus of funding projects and have that political and community support, and pull it all together more and keep moving in that direction.

TED SIMONS: Let's talk about some of the projects. I know phoenix and Tempe have this bicycle boulevard going on here. What is that all about?

JOSEPH PEREZ: The Bike Boulevard a great way to get from Tempe, Glendale, Downtown Phoenix. About 4.6 miles using Roosevelt, it is really neat, somewhat experimental, using green paint. And it is pretty neat the way we are combining street lane markings with green paint to put something where a bike lane is not currently.

TED SIMONS: Okay. How much does something like that cost?

JOSEPH PEREZ: Well, Depending on what we are doing bike lane costs about. $1,000 per side per mile. This particular green paint is a little more expensive a little wider, the shared lane markings a little wider. Those are $250 each. The green paint couple thousand for the paint.

TED SIMONS: Let's talk other areas of improvement. I know you have a bicycle map out there. How much does that help? Is that a factor? Do people look at these kinds of things?

REED KEMPTON: I think they do. Especially if they are just thinking about starting to commute to work. They pull down the map, available online. A lot of people call us and say how can I get to work from here? Here is where I live. Those riding a lot can help. Out. We try to keep people off the major streets, but in a lot of cases that is the only way you are going to cross the rivers and freeways.

TED SIMONS: Tempe did a bike count. What did you find regarding bike habits, the concerns out there? It sounds like people are riding on the wrong side of the road all the time.

ERIC IVERSON: I think that's a real problem, riding against the flow of traffic and a big reason why people are doing that, they feel like they don't have a safe way to get from point A to point B so it's a matter of having enough facilities on every road, having safe facilities on every road and having the ability to cross a road at convenient points so people can get to the right side of the road to go with the flow of traffic. It's removing obstacles like freeways, railroad tracks and getting over those things easily so that you can go with the flow of traffic.

TED SIMONS: What makes a dangerous intersection, what makes a safe intersection and how can cities, municipalities, keep the traffic moving but keep the bikes moving, too?

JOSEPH PEREZ: Well, it's certainly not safe when you're riding against the flow of traffic. Bicyclists should realize that that's the easiest way for them to get into a collision with cars is riding against traffic. So they should always ride on the right side of the street with the flow of traffic. What makes an intersection more or less safe is depending on how many cars are going through the intersection, what kind of signalization what's happening, if it's a left turn arrow versus a solid green ball, if there are arterial streets, that are much more risky than a collector-collector, local-local. If I'm riding a bike, I like to ride back streets; I like to go down 3rd Avenue or Fifth Avenue.

TED SIMONS: Talk about what makes a safe intersection, what makes a dangerous intersection. 7th Avenue seems a little dicey. What makes a safe street and how can municipalities encourage that kind of change?

REED KEMPTON: Bicycle comfort is based on three things, the speed of the traffic, the volume of the traffic, and the width of the outside travel lane. So the wider that outside travel lane is, the more comfortable it's going to be for the bicyclist. So if we have a street that has a 15-foot lane, we would narrow them down to 10 or 11 feet and make room for the bike lane on the side. That gives the cyclist a place to ride and when you approach an intersection, we keep the bike lane between the right turn lane and the through travel lane. That gives the cyclist a very clear spot to be when they're at the intersection.

TED SIMONS: And that gets to things like buffer lanes, the idea of separating the bike from the traffic with a little lane, a little line? Is that what that is?

ERIC IVERSON: Certainly that's a technology that can be used and having a separator between your bike lane and the rest of the vehicle lanes. The larger issue is how do you make a street safer, how do you make an intersection safer and we've been building them a certain way for 50 years, 75 years and that was to encourage faster traffic and more vehicle traffic and I think we have to be conscientious to try to recharacterize streets a little bit more towards having them include all types of travel on those streets, making it safer for all types of travel on the streets. It's really a redesign and a recharacterization of how we're thinking about our intersections and our streets.

TED SIMONS: The last question about 30 seconds left here, are city leader thinking along the same lanes or is it a battle?

JOSEPH PEREZ: Certainly city leaders are thinking about this. Recently, we all went on a bike ride in honor of a young boy named Diego, three miles from done -- the leadership is seeing the fruits of what cycling can bring.

TED SIMONS: All right. Very good. Good to have you all here. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

TED SIMONS: Our focus on sustainability now shifts to a nonprofit organization that’s trying to create sustainable economies in northern Arizona. The group is called SEDI, the Sustainable Economic Development Initiative.

TED SIMONS: Thanks for joining us. What is SEDI?

CAROL BOUSQUET: SEDI consists of 45 board committed people who are promoting economic prosperity in Northern Arizona, sustainable prosperity in northern Arizona.

TED SIMONS: I had a definition here. Sustainable economic prosperity through ecological health social equity and resilient economy.

CAROL BOUSQUET: That's our mission.

TED SIMONS: But what does that mean?

CAROL BOUSQUET: Well, I would say what we're trying to do is promote a Sustainable economic environment that can be perpetuated, not one. -- if you brought in a company that was only there because of one certain incentive and the economy changes and they have to leave and lay off all the people, that's not sustainable.

TED SIMONS: It sounds like you have a resilient economy. Describe a resilient economy against a good, old-fashioned strong economy.

HOLLY YEAGER: One of the things for resilience in northern Arizona is it's a great place to live. So we're always looking at how can we keep the companies that we have and how can we really promote companies that want to do the best for their communities. So resilience for us can look like things like having sustainability in the school system, promoting a culture of entrepreneurship, helping with local food and promoting local food and local entrepreneurs.

TED SIMONS: It sounds like the focus is local.

HOLLY YEAGER: You got it.

TED SIMONS: That's basically what it is. Get it here, keep it here promote it here, grow it here.

HOLLY YEAGER: What does that mean for northern Arizona, for our environment as well as our economy of the Flagstaff region.

CAROL BOUSQUET: And one of our unique features is that we're not very close to other urban areas. We count on transportation systems to bring goods and services and if we can contain that, provide more goods and services closer to home, that's easier to sustain.

TED SIMONS: We mentioned keeping things local. Work force training would help keep local workers local. Correct?


TED SIMONS: And you have a work force training program?

CAROL BOUSQUET: We have been working for years on putting together a work force training program in the region which we anticipate being launched in January of 2013. So we're very excited about that. It's a collaboration with a host of local entities including the community college, the university, the county, the city, school district. Thank you very much for that because it's a facility that's utilizing an under-purposed what is now a middle school, once was a high school and there are empty shop spaces that are going to be renovated for that purpose.

TED SIMONS: Challenges of getting this work force training -- sounds like it's been a long time coming. Have there been speed bumps?

HOLLY YEAGER: Well, we did a survey. We identified that manufacturers are going to be need ago work force training force in northern Arizona. We're expecting lots of job growth. We have all kinds of things going on including forest restoration initiative. The need to train lots of people in manufacturing. What a great opportunity that we had a chance to use the existing machine floor of the former high school. Things like this wouldn't happen without SEDI. You have government, nonprofit and business leaders all at the table saying how do we make the best of the resources that we have and really make the connection between the university, the work force that we're training and the needs of business.

TED SIMONS: Something else that looks very wonderful is eco-tourism. How's that fitting into what you're doing there?

CAROL BOUSQUET: Well, most specifically SEDI overseas a Walton family foundation grant which has provided a wonderful opportunity to partner with some other organizations in the Verde Valley, to promote eco-tourism based around preservation of the Verde river, honoring that as a destination point but also a resource for the area. So that's been very interesting. That group has already been in turn been connected -- there's a website that connects with the Flagstaff area, green business network, and together the synergy has provided a rich eco-tourism resource.

TED SIMONS: I have heard collaboration. I've heard synergy. Sounds like a lot of folks -- like folks are getting together. Are they getting together? Is it like herding cats?

HOLLY YEAGER: Not really. We have a lot of leaders in Northern Arizona, a lot of people who are really committed to the sustainability of the region. People from every sector really coming together. SEDI is very unique in that it brings groups together and asking what's possible. We take a longer-term focus, so sometimes we create almost the fertile ground for economic development efforts and we partner with a very long list of folks working on economic development. Sometimes what we do is very simple. We have had a very successful teacher recognition award. It's phenomenal to be able to recognize four teachers a year for what they do to integrate sustainability into their curriculum.

CAROL BOUSQUET: We're going to build on that bringing businesses and the students, our future leaders together to partner on sustainability efforts.

TED SIMONS: I ask you this in a different way. Basically the response from civic leaders, response from business leaders, response from residents. What are you hearing?

HOLLY YEAGER: I think that we're very progressive community and there's a lot of excitement about economic development and economic prosperity in northern Arizona. So I think that SEDI is very much part of that. Everybody sees that they have a unique role to play. It's great to be part of an organization where you can hear directly from business about what makes our community so unique and how do we make sure we preserve these things into the future.

TED SIMONS: What are you hearing, again from civic, business, and just folks?

CAROL BOUSQUET: I think there's a lot of enthusiasm for the future of the region. And I think people are coming together. I hear lots of partnerships taking place. In fact, one of the things that SEDI has been doing is we're holding board meetings on occasion. We have board members from Clarkdale and Camp Verde and Sedona. And to bring that perspective and energy into the conversation has just been really invigorating.

TED SIMONS: All right. Sounds like things are happening up there. Good luck.

TED SIMONS: And that's it for now. Thank you for joining us on this special edition of "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. You have a great evening.

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